New tsunami warning sirens will soon replace Kodiak Island’s current siren system, which has suffered several malfunctions in recent years and is beginning to fail, according to city officials.
Kodiak Island has 21 sirens, with 10 located within city limits and 11 outside city limits, according to Dave Conrad, Kodiak Island Borough’s engineering and facilities director.
The new sirens, which will be installed in the coming weeks, will feature programmed messages in Spanish, English and Tagalog, as well as an all-clear message to alert the community that an emergency situation no longer poses a threat.
The new sirens are also able to emit different sounds for different types of emergencies, such as warnings for chemical spills and tsunamis.
The system also allows for live messaging. However, Fire Department Chief Jim Mullican said that having numerous pre-programmed messages will allow dispatchers to focus on answering calls and dispatching emergency responders, rather than giving directions over the system.
“They are also answering hundreds and hundreds of phone calls,” Mullican said. “The more we can automate it for them, the better our services to respond to the citizens’ needs.”
The new sirens will be placed on 50-foot-tall poles, higher up than the island’s current sirens to improve the range at which they can be heard. In addition, because the sirens can transmit in all directions, the sound will be distributed equally, covering a greater area.
Mullican said some of the sirens will be moved to different locations to improve sound propagation in some areas.
“You will notice a big difference. You will hear it a lot louder,” he said.
Kodiak Police Chief Tim Putney said the new sirens are twice as powerful as the current system, allowing the sound to travel longer distances.
The siren replacement project follows many discussions on how to improve the island’s emergency warning system. A tsunami siren site survey conducted in February 2019 concluded that all 21 of the island’s sirens should be replaced and that several should be relocated.
Over the past year and a half, the Kodiak City Council has frequently received news that sirens were not working. During an evacuation in 2018, the sirens malfunctioned. In addition, some community members complained that they could not hear the sirens.
In response, the council decided to make updating the siren system a priority, city of Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson said, adding that with several tsunami scares occurring in the past two years, the installation of the sirens is “timely.”
“It’s getting to be a regular event for us,” Branson said about tsunami threats. “This just adds to the life and safety of our community.”
Funding for the sirens to be installed within city limits came from two federal grants for $380,873 and $186,332, in addition to the city's contribution of $183,332.
The cost for the sirens outside the city limits amounts to $518,241 and will be paid for with federal grants and the borough’s budget. Borough sirens will also include one in Pasagshak.
Conrad said the exact location of the Pasagshak siren will be decided in the coming week.
Mullican said the sirens are intended to notify people who are outside about threats, while people inside buildings should rely on the police Nixle notification system for instructions and messaging.
Branson noted that during the tsunami scare in late July, police officers were outside warning people living in the inundation zone to move to higher ground.
Mullican said that during future tsunami threats, only those people who are in an inundation area should evacuate to higher ground. Inundation maps can be found on the Kodiak Island Borough website.
City Manager Mike Tvenge said that the new tsunami sounds will be available for the public to hear on the city’s website.
Putney said the department will try to match the new tsunami warning sounds with the current system’s sounds, and both systems will be used until the sirens are switched out in about one month.
The department will replace one siren at a time. There will be complete tsunami warning coverage during the process, Mullican said.
“At no time will there be lack of service,” Mullican said. “Single alarm comes down, single alarm goes back up. There will always be a functioning system.”